Thursday, January 22, 2015

Godspell and the Construction of the Twin Towers

In my Jesus in Film class today we focused on Godspell (dir. David Greene, 1973).  It's not my favourite Jesus film at all and so in re-viewing it, I was looking for things that might help to improve my impression of it.  And I found one major one.  The photographing of New York City in this film is really exquisite.

There are many views of New York that are breathtaking, but one scene is especially memorable -- David Greene captures the World Trade Center as construction on it is still in progress.  The number is "All for the best".  The song features the actors dancing in different areas of New York, including Time Square, where Victor Garber and David Haskell dance in front of their own silhouettes on screen, but the scene ends with the crew dancing on the top of the North Tower:



The panoramic view of New York in the background is remarkable.  And just how close to the edge of they?!  I would be absolutely terrified. I am guessing that the camera here is itself on the North Tower.  When the camera pans back further, the actors are still at the edge of the tower, but now facing in the opposite direction.  And here, the viewer can clearly see that construction is ongoing:



Presumably the camera is on a helicopter here?  I had wondered if it was on the South Tower, but is that the South Tower in the upper left of the shot?  As the camera pans back further, we see several shots of the twin towers.  Again, I am assuming this is done on a helicopter:



As the camera pans back further, we see both towers:



And the final shot in the sequence is the long shot of the twin towers against the New York skyline:


Here's that minute or so of remarkable footage:




An article in the Washington Post from 2006 features a brief comment from Victor Garber (Jesus) on this:
"It was really a magical day," he says of filming at the twin towers, and "surreal," too, taking an elevator "as high up as it was done" before having to climb through scaffolding to reach the roof. "It was overwhelming to walk out there."
Nearly three decades later, working in Los Angeles on 9/11, Garber says it took a day or two for the reality of the twin towers' loss and his connection to sink in: "It suddenly dawned on me that we were up there. I can't quite believe it. But you have the soundtrack cover, and there it is -- we're there."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Celluloid Jesus: The Christ Film Web Pages are back!



For many years, I had a series of web pages which I called "Celluloid Jesus: The Christ Film Web Pages".  When we revamped the NT Gateway, back in 2008, these pages did not quite fit the new look and I decided to drop them.  I always intended to bring them back as soon as time allowed. This semester I am teaching a course on Jesus in Film at Duke and it seemed to be the perfect excuse to bring them back.  Here is the link:

Celluloid Jesus: The Christ Film Web Pages

I have ported over a lot of the older material and I have begun the process of revising and adding materials.  Currently, there are sections on Websites, Online Articles, Podcasts, Biblography and List of Films.

I have begun the process of setting up pages on each film.  I am doing this as I work through them with my Jesus in Film class.  So far, I have pages on King of Kings (1961), The Greatest Story Ever Told and The Gospel According to St Matthew.




Saturday, January 10, 2015

King of Kings (1961): Philip Yordan's Script and George Kilpatrick

I'm continuing to rewatch and research King of Kings (1961) ahead of teaching a class on it on Tuesday.  TCM has this lovely, short clip of scriptwriter Philip Yordan talking about the film.  He tells about how disastrous the script was when he first saw it -- it was just a series of biblical excerpts.  Director Nicholas Ray told Yordan that he had no money for the script but that he had his kids' college fund, and that was what he gave to Yordan to write it:



I have been wondering, though, whether there were any academic consultants involved with the film.  Like many films of the day, the credits all appear at the beginning and they are not detailed.  You're lucky if all the major actors are credited, let alone members of the crew.  There are no dolly grips or caterers here!  Nor does IMDb's entry help here.

Happily, my friend Peter Groves has been in touch with me this week to let me know that in fact Professor George Kilpatrick was employed as an academic consultant on the picture and even visited the set in Spain.  Armed with this knowledge, I noodled around on the net a little and found one or two mentions of this fact, including a Variety Review from December 1960 and a recent article by Tony Williams ("Nicholas Ray's King of Kings", CineAction 76 (Spring 2009)).  Williams writes:
Ray and Yordan worked on the screenplay with Catholic Oxford Don the Reverend George Kilpatrick who remained on the set during filming. Ray expressed his indebtedness to this scholar in a letter to Samuel Bronston. 
Williams does not give his source for this item, but I'd love to see it, or anything else that details Kilpatrick's involvement.

Update (Sunday, 3.42pm): I am grateful to Matt Page on Twitter and Stephen Goranson in comments for their help in pointing to Williams's source for the above information.  It is Bernard Eisenschitz, Nicholas Ray: An American Journey (translated by Tom Milne; London: Faber and Faber, 1993): 363:
Meanwhile he [Ray] continued working on the script with Jordan and a Catholic priest, the Rev. George Kilpatrick, an Oxford don, who remained on hand throughout filming.  In February, he wrote to Bronston to say that, thanks to Kilpatrick, he had solved the dramatic problem of how to treat the trial of Jesus. ‘For the first time since I completed the script of Savage Innocents, I feel like writing again.’
Williams does refer to this book in his footnotes, but not in the precise location where one sees the above quotation.  I wonder if Williams' paraphrase of Eisenschitz slightly over-interprets it when he says Kilpatrick "remained on the set" during filming.  We know that Kilpatrick visited the set but to "remain on hand" during filming may mean that he was available and in contact throughout, e.g. at the end of a phoneline, but I would be interested to hear more.


Carl Holladay to give the Clark Lectures

This year's Kenneth W. Clark lectures at Duke Divinity School are to be given by Carl Holladay.  Details are here:

Clark Lectures 2015: Carl Holladay

The schedule is:

Lecture 1
Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015
4:00 – 5:15 p.m.
0016 Westbrook, Duke Divinity School

Lecture 2
Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015
8:30 – 9:45 a.m.
0016 Westbrook, Duke Divinity School


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

King of Kings (1961): are those telegraph poles?

One of the things that happens when you watch a film many times over is that you start spotting things in the background.  I was viewing the temptation scene in King of Kings (1961) today, and there is a long shot right over the desert and I think I can see what look like two telegraph poles in the background.

Here's a screenshot:


Can't see what I'm talking about?  Take a closer look:


Here's a zoom-in at the best resolution I can manage:



See what I mean, or am I seeing things?

King of Kings (1961) Premiere on British Pathé

I am currently preparing a class on King of Kings (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1961) for the course on Jesus in Film that I am teaching this semester at Duke.  While researching for the course, I came across this delightful piece from British Pathé News on Youtube.

It is the a one and a half minute news item about the U.S. premiere of the film, with footage from both the east and west coast premieres.  You see Jeffrey Hunter (Jesus) at about 1:21, and he is looking much more like Captain Pike here than Jesus:




Also of interest is the highlight of Lauren and Preston Tisch, owners of the Loewes Corporation, who gave their names to the NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.  It's worth noting also the prominence given to "young and beautiful Brigid Bazlen" who plays Salome.  She was only seventeen at the time and never became the big star that they seem to expect here.

The news item gives a sense of just how huge the release of this film was.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Podcasting Jesus on Duke devilTech

I sat down yesterday to talk to my friend and colleague Stephen Toback about my NT Pod and my future plans for the podcast, including venturing into video podcasting. We talked in Duke's new MPS studio, which I am greatly looking forward to using in the coming weeks. Our discussion, on the latest Duke devilTech, is available here:





Many thanks to Stephen for the invitation to appear on Duke devilTech and the chance to learn more about the MPS studio.


Jesus Films this Christmas

I am greatly looking forward to teaching a new course on Jesus in Film next semester here at Duke.  I'm encouraging those signed up for the class to begin their work over the break by seeking out Jesus films on the TV.  I have drawn up a list for them of films to look out for and it occurred to me that it would be worthwhile sharing it here on the blog too.  These are, of course, those available to those living in the USA:

Sunday 21 December:

The Bible (2013): History Channel

Monday 22 December

Bible Secrets Revealed (2013): History Channel

The Nativity Story (2006): AMC (repeated 23rd, 24th & 25th)

Tuesday 23 December

King of Kings (1961), TCM

Monday 29 December

The King of Kings (1927), TCM

For those who have have Netflix, the following films are also currently available:

Jesus of Nazareth (1977) [But note that this is the abridged movie version, not the full-length TV miniseries]

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

The Bible (2013)

For those who have Amazon Prime, the following film is also available:

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1964)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Richard Bauckham, Assessing the Lost Gospel: All in one

All seven parts of Richard Bauckham's assessment of Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson, The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus' Marriage to Mary Magdalene (New York: Pegasus, 2014), are now available combined into one article, which I have uploaded here:

Assessing The Lost Gospel [PDF] [Word]

Many thanks to Steve Walton for doing this and sending it over.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Richard Bauckham, Assessing the Lost Gospel: All Seven Parts

Richard Bauckham's assessment of Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson, The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus' Marriage to Mary Magdalene (New York: Pegasus, 2014) is now complete.

I have been posting his responses over the last two weeks, and I am happy now to gather links to all seven parts here.  In each case, the main link is to a PDF of the article.  Word versions are linked in square brackets:

Part 1: The Chronicle of Pseudo-Zachariah Rhetor – Content and Context [PDF] [Word]

Part 2: Misinterpreting Ephrem [PDF] [Word]

Part 3: Misreading Joseph and Aseneth (i) [PDF] [Word]

Part 4: Responding to Simcha's Responses [PDF] [Word]

Part 5: Misreading Joseph and Aseneth (ii) [PDF] [Word]

Part 6: On Mary Magdalene and Magdala [PDF] [Word]

Part 7: Conclusion and Pauline Postscript [PDF] [Word]

Many thanks to Prof. Bauckham for this fine, detailed critical analysis.